Twenty years ago, Mike Walker was so fed up with fighting large shopping crowds the day after Thanksgiving that he did something about it.
The Sea Scout volunteer in Houston started a councilwide sailing event. Instead of sprinting into big-box stores for Black Friday sales, young men and young women would step aboard sailboats for the Black Friday Sail.
Year after year ever since, Sea Scouts have gathered in Galveston Bay for the Black Friday Sail. They’re out there every Black Friday, whether the winds are fair or blustery.
Sadly, this year’s event took place without its founder. Walker died on Sept. 14, 2018, after a long battle with cancer. He was 78.
There was no question whether the Black Friday Sail would continue without Walker. It’s what he would’ve wanted.
Honoring their benefactor
On Nov. 23, 2018, 60 Sea Scouts and Sea Scout leaders from the Sam Houston Area Council gathered to honor Walker. The boats anchored together, and everyone listened as the reminiscing began. They shared funny stories, recognized Walker’s service as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy and talked about Walker’s work on the national Sea Scout committee.
Walker helped develop a number of training courses for Sea Scouts, including the Sea Scout Advanced Leadership (SEAL) training for youth.
He was the skipper (the top adult volunteer) of Sea Scout Ship 502 when it was named Sea Scout National Flagship, an honor bestowed on just one ship per year. (“Ship” is the term for a Sea Scout unit — like a pack or troop.)
Cassie Johnson, who served on the Sea Scout committee with Walker, read Walker’s favorite poem, “High Flight” by John Magee.
“He inspired us to be bigger than we knew was possible,” Johnson said. “He was really good about letting the kids plan new experiences, and after listening to their plans, he would say the magic words: ‘make it happen.'”
Cynthia Swenceski, Cassie’s daughter and the first Sea Scout to earn the Quartermaster Award (the program’s highest honor) under Walker’s mentorship, read the poem “Afterglow” by Helen Lowrey Marshall.
After these touching tributes, everyone gathered on the bows of their boats and threw rose petals into the water. The group then stood in silence as a Sea Scout rang eight bells to mark the “end of watch” for Walker.
In perhaps the best way of all to honor Walker’s legacy, the Sam Houston Area Council plans to continue its Black Friday Sail for as long as there are Black Friday sales to avoid. Building on Walker’s vision, these young people will forgo the crowds in favor of something much more meaningful.
Thanks to Neal Farmer for the blog post idea.